I came up on Kevin Smith... on Clerks and Mallrats and Chasing Amy. Insensible stoner comedies they may have been, to a one, but I loved them. For me, the downturn began with Dogma, and though Clerks 2 didn't entirely suck, and Zack and Miri Make a Porno showed some modicum of promise - not to mention rather more of Jason Mewes than I'd counted on seeing - hindsight insists that these are exceptions to the frankly embarrassing trend Smith has established in the interim, rather than evidence of some upswing.
Red State is basically Mallrats meets Hostel: torture porn with so many self-serious soliloquies as to rival every word spoken throughout the entirely of the SAW franchise. It begins with three horny teens whose names you needn't even stress about... though one is played by Kyle Gallner, who's impressed me before, and surely would do again had he or any of the other impressive bit-part players (among them Michael Parks, John Goodman and True Blood's Stephen Root) had but the slightest chance to shine in this unfortunate affair.
Anyway, there's these three dudes, right? And they've been offered sex on a platter. They need only go to a trailer somewhere out in the sticks and drink two beers before they get theirs... and oh, they do get theirs. Just not in the way they might have imagined. Instead, they're drugged, gagged and captured, and when at last they awake, they find themselves in the barnyard church of a little Christian cult with a lotta God's guns.
Unusually, what follows is not in fact the narrative of their attempts to escape the clutches of Pastor Abin Cooper and his unwaveringly faithful congregation. Actually, as distasteful as that sounds, that might have been better. Instead, Smith tries to do action (again), and fails (again), because when word gets out that the bloodthirsty minister has himself a holy trinity of hostages, the ATF get involved, and not a little predictably, a shoot-out ensues. And ensues. And ensues.
I guess that'd have been all well and good if the shoot-out had been in any sense tense or engaging or exciting. It isn't. Though it is, I'll say - and do pardon the pun - stylishly shot; faint praise which I think it's safe to attribute to cinematographer David Klein in any event, rather than writer/director (not to mention editor/distributor) Kevin Smith, whose most notable contribution to these long-winded sequences - namely a series of absurd pauses to allow for the deeply dippy dialogue that is typical of his work - quite undercuts the kinetic quality Klein otherwise achieves.
Red State is in every other sense a mess. Maybe if it had had a few dick jokes I would've been able to look upon it more kindly, but no... no suck luck. In fact it is written with so little coherency and so little interest in - or even seeming awareness of - pace, character, narrative and the like that it seems defiant; positively transgressive - which, to be sure, has been Smith's business all along - but against what? Church? State? Common sense? Only Smarties have the answer.
I've been a Kevin Smith fan through thick and through thin, but the thick has been thin on the ground of late, no doubt about it. Here I was thinking at least it couldn't get much worse than Cop Out.